Leadership is not a quantifiable entity. It’s one of those intangible things which hockey people understand, but no one can put on paper. Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is a leader not only in his locker room but across the league. And so his admission about the league’s lack of answers regarding the NHL playoffs or hockey’s return on Wednesday should have caught a few of you off guard.
And it should spur action.
“There are not a lot of answers right now,” Crosby said off-handedly to TSN’s Darren Dreger.
Really? Crosby admitted he and many players are talking and have questions but after two months of quarantine, and eight weeks of staring at this eventuality, there aren’t a lot of answers.
Well, that’s just great.
“I believe that if the right time comes and the right circumstances… we’ll get this season done,” Bettman said on Tuesday, per The San Jose Mercury News. “I don’t want to sound Pollyanna, but canceling is too easy a solution.”
“States are reopening, cities are reopening,” Bettman added. “And if we do the right things, I think we’ll be able to finish the season.”
So, let’s go. Lay out a plan and let’s get to it. Bettman can create the right circumstances.
The NHL and Commissioner Bettman have led from behind on most issues. Sometimes, it works in their favor. Many newer American fans insisted fighting be banned from hockey, which ran counter to the many established fans and the old guard. Rather than grabbing the electrically charged issue while standing in a puddle of water, the NHL leadership allowed the salary cap and the skating explosion of the new game to organically minimize fighting.
Now, the only time fighting is an issue is when a bad luck Penguins winger (who wears No. 46) breaks his hand during a hot streak.
Restarting the NHL season during a worldwide pandemic won’t be so easy, and the NHL doesn’t have years to let things play out. Nor does the NHL have the luxury of waiting and watching the NBA to see how that league handles a return-to-play scenario. The NHL return is more complex and challenging than the NBA, which could restart its season with as little as three, maybe four weeks notice.
The NHL isn’t so lucky. No, this time, the NHL and its big mahogany desks must lead.
It’s not a position in which Bettman is comfortable. The league still hasn’t acknowledged a link between CTE and concussions. However, time to relaunch the NHL playoffs is running short. There are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake between this season and next season. Careers are expiring, and countless decisions and life paths hang in the balance.
“Not a lot of answers,” is not an acceptable situation after two months. No, and hell no.
I’m not just a writer. I’m a business owner, on multiple fronts. The ugly thing about leading is decision making. It’s a crowded process in which many people know many things, but it’s usually a lonely result.
That’s why leaders make more money.
I won’t bore you with my solutions. I don’t get a say, nor do I get input. The clear baselines for the decisions which will launch the NHL playoffs are the safety of players, the feasibility of play, and sustainability.
Rec hockey restarted in Jacksonville, FL last week, and 20 first responders were the folks who got the first ice times. There were also a few fights and suspensions, but after the hell which they’ve seen and eight weeks of home lockup, everyone is forgiven for having a little extra vinegar.
We’ve flattened the curve and avoided the crashing wave upon our healthcare system. We managed to stem the horrid outbreak in New York City, though it will be a while before I’m on a park bench in Central Park.
There exists the potential a player or several will contract COVID-19 during the process, just as you and I could contract the virus during our daily life. A second-tier German soccer league trainer contracted the virus and spread it to several players. There were no severe consequences, nor have there been in any of the leagues around the world which have restarted.
We know playing in 31 NHL cities with travel is absolutely not feasible. MLB is avoiding the border quarantine restrictions by relocating one team. The NHL cannot relocate seven of the most beloved teams in the league. Pod cities are the only way to go. A 24-team playoff makes sense. So, too does a 20, or even a traditional 16-team field.
Pick one. There isn’t a perfect solution ad people will be unhappy. Pick one.
The timeline to restart the NHL playoffs is approximately six weeks. First, there will be travel times, then an additional two weeks of quarantine at the pod city location. Two weeks of training camp won’t be enough, so let us add a couple or a few more days. Now, we’re already at or beyond five weeks and a few exhibition games wouldn’t hurt, either.
July is six weeks away.
Sure, Twitter will melt. Fans will grouse about whatever solution the NHL chooses. Many will second guess. But that’s the price of leadership. Someone needs to take the reigns and get the NHL moving forward.
And Twitter isn’t real life.
At this exact moment, things are slowly moving, but the NHL must project forward to July. It can be done with planning but also by setting forth a vision and letting good people figure out the best paths to the NHL return.
Bettman and the NHL office needs to show it.